With the Academy of Our Lady of Guam keying in on George Washington High School’s Alana Salas and limiting her to two field goals, odds were that the point guard wouldn’t have scored a game-high 13 points and led the Geckos to victory.
But, she did.
Salas, on Saturday, on the Cougars’ home court in Hagåtña, made all nine of her free-throw attempts. And, on the way to leading the GW’s basketball team to a 57-46 win over Academy, with 10 assists, secured a double-double.
“Every game, I feel the defensive pressure,” Salas said. “Obviously, the word goes around that we’re a really good team. I run the offense, so it’s all eyes on me."
The Geckos, one of the capable teams at moving without the ball in the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam, challenged the defense and created opportunity.
“She (Salas) is a big key in all my points,” said Banez, who finished with 12 points. “She makes games easier. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”
In a game filled with highs and lows, stifling defense, and runs, the Cougars came out roaring. Opening the first quarter with a long 2-pointer, from just inside the arc, Annika Almario brought the Cougars’ fans into the game. And, after another long 2-point shot from Myka Terlaje, followed by a layup, Academy led 6-0. Capping an 8-0 run, Terlaje, with an assist to a cutting A’lura Hernandez through the key, brought the crowd to their feet.
“I’m proud of my team,” said GW power forward Kirsten Santos, who finished with 12 points. “I didn’t come with underestimating them (the Cougars). But, I am so glad that we pulled through. This is one of the toughest games for us. It feels good to say that we beat them here on their floor.”
After scoring the Geckos’ first point with a free throw, Haley Banez slowly invited her team into the scoresheet.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Banez said.
Salas, with 3:11 left in the quarter, scored GW’s first basket.
The Geckos’ Amanda Uncangco, scoring 4 of her 8 points in the period, pulled the purple-and-gold within one point, 12-11.
With momentum favoring the Geckos, the visitor's scoring surge carried over to the second quarter. With four more converted Salas free throws, 6 points from Banez, and a 3-pointer each from Ha’ani Aquino and Alexsia Aquino, GW led 26-17.
“Alana, she makes the whole team better,” said GW head coach Lujan. “She’s the coach on the floor.”
Against a less-experienced team, the Geckos' lead might have held up. But against Academy, a roster filled with championship-game experience, it didn’t.
Academy’s Cori-Nicole Paulino, leading five different Cougars lighting up the scoreboard, in the period, scored 6 points.
After a steal and a half-ending coast-to-coast drive, the Cougars’ Maria Taitano’s buzzer-beater brought Academy within three points, 30-27.
After brief halftime strategy sessions from Academy’s head coach Jimmy Yi, and Lujan, the teams came out firing.
Tying the game at 30-30, the Cougars’ Oriana Sevilla hit a 3-pointer from the left corner. Completely shutting down the Cougars' offense, and amassing an 11-0 run, GW pulled away for good. With 4 points from Aubri Chargualaf, and four other Geckos finding the bottom of the net, GW played at peak performance.
“We knew we had to come back and push through,” Banez said.
Late in the fourth quarter, after a steal and a finish, Sevilla pulled Academy within 4 points, 50-46.
Santos, leading the Geckos with a game-ending 7-0 run, started the rally. Making 4 of 5 from the charity stripe, GW turned the tables on Academy.
“Especially, if I’m not making shots from the outside, free throws are key,” Salas said. “Free throws win games.”
With the regular season quickly coming to an end, and the Geckos vs. Cougars' first meeting postponed twice, soon, the two heavyweights will square off again.
“I expect them to play harder,” Salas said. “We’re fighting for first place. We just have to take the challenge and be ready for it.”
“The advantage is, they’ve played together for a long time,” Lujan said.
“They’ve been in these kinds of situations before. Academy’s coaches are very smart. They’re going to make adjustments. But they’re going to play on our home floor.
"So, we’ll see.”